Oakwood 1 (Higham)
Worthing 2 (Worsfold, Chrimes)
High-flying Oakwood finally lost their first competitive match of their second season in adult football when they were denied a Sussex Trophy semi-final spot by a vastly more experienced – but only slightly more deserving – Worthing.
The Sussex County League leaders, who, as Crawley Town, finished second in their debut campaign last year, are now flying high under the Oakwood banner, having won nine of their 10 league and cup fixtures before today.
But they met their match in Worthing – themselves playing under a new name after many years as Worthing Minors – who won a highly competitive cup tie full of commitment and endeavour, and embellished with some exquisite individual performances.
Worthing, the trophy holders and currently heading Division One West of the South East Counties League, a tier above their opponents, had that little bit too much for their young hosts, but were made to sweat as both sides struggled to find the goal.
In the end, despite considerable periods of Worthing dominance, the Crawley side were beaten by two set-pieces, courtesy of the immaculate delivery of the ultra-consistent Naomi Robinson.
Oakwood, largely comprising teenagers, took their first defeat of the season to heart, but they played their full part in a game that underlines their credentials as one of the finest women’s sides in Sussex.
It took the home side – playing in the unusual surroundings of Bewbush playing fields – a while to find their feet, resorting to hurried clearances while their opponents slipped easily into a passing rhythm.
But after weathering the early pressure, during which the visitors managed only a single shot, they grew in confidence, forcing a couple of throws deep in Worthing territory, though rarely threatening goalkeeper Lani Smith.
One of the first to settle was Abi Knight, who posed Worthing considerable problems down the left. But it was through a more direct route that Oakwood created their first chance, in the 15th minute.
Tayla Hill sent top scorer Jade Page through, and the pacy teenager did well to get in a shot on goal, despite being forced wide, but a deflection made it a comfortable save for Smith.
Moments later, Page was through again, but Megan Cave – not for the last time – did brilliantly to deny the youngster a clear shot on goal.
And it was Cave again who broke up another threatening move, again involving Knight, initially cutting out the cross and then heading clear the follow-up.
At the other end, Worthing captain Naomi Robinson – also not for the last time – tried a snapshot from distance but failed to worry goalkeeper Danni Cutler.
While Worthing were largely enjoying the better-quality possession, Oakwood were posing a genuine threat through the pace and strength of Page and the skill of Knight.
On 25 minutes Cloe Higham, nominally Oakwood’s left-back, outmuscled a Worthing defender to make room for a shot from the left, which Smith held comfortably.
A minute later it was Cutler’s turn to take a straightforward catch after the impressive Hannah Hewlett tried her luck from almost 40 yards.
It was not until the 27th minute that either side won a corner – but Worthing made maximum use of the opportunity to take the lead. Robinson’s pinpoint flag-kick was met on the volley by Gemma Worsfold, who blasted home from a few yards.
They had an opportunity to extend their lead a couple of minutes later, when Emily Cooke headed on Smith’s hurried clearance from a back-pass into the path of Worsfold, but Oakwood captain Sarah Killick-Bird was across in an instant to cut out the danger.
Kim Chrimes, nominally a defender, was introduced after half an hour and immediately had an impact for Worthing up-front, bulldozing through Oakwood’s defence and bring a bit of spark to the visitors’ slightly lacklustre performance.
The tide had now turned well and truly in Worthing’s favour, with the higher-ranked side enjoying good possession in crucial areas, while Oakwood were left to rely on Page’s pace in breakaways.
On 33 minutes, another Robinson shot from almost 30 yards was held under the bar by Cutler.
And a minute later Worthing won their second corner, which very nearly led to a second goal. This time from the left, Robinson sent in another superb kick, which Hewlett headed home, but the referee had already blown for a foul by the Worthing player.
It took a fine tackle by another substitute, Brooke Marshall, to halt Higham’s marauding run into the Worthing box, and in the 37th minute Oakwood won their first corner after another impressive piece of defending by the excellent Cave.
But Knight could only manage the slightest touch to Higham’s corner kick, and the immediate danger passed.
On 39 minutes Worthing won their third corner, and once again it bore fruit, Chrimes getting in the decisive shot after Megan McCready’s effort had been blocked to make it 2-0.
With half-time approaching, Oakwood needed a rapid response, and it almost came in the 43rd minute when Page outsprinted three defenders but shot too close to Smith, who saved on her line with her feet.
In the final minute of the half it was Cutler’s turn to make a crucial save, somehow turning Robinson’s fierce effort around the post.
The Worthing captain sent over another superb corner, but this time no-one was able to get a touch on the ball.
Half-time: Oakwood 0-2 Worthing
Despite the double blow, the county league side were still in the game, but they needed to be more ruthless in front of goal – and the dangerous Page needed more support against such an accomplished defence.
They began the second half with a more determined attitude, stringing together half a dozen passes straight from the kick-off.
Within a couple of minutes, Page threatened again after being sent clear by a good ball from Alice Horton, but Marshall again read the danger and stopped the 25-goal striker in her tracks.
It merely delayed the inevitable, though, as Oakwood brought themselves right back into the match on 48 minutes with the goal of the game.
Higham, now in a more advanced role, dispossessed a Worthing player before unleashing a magnificent shot from 25 yards, which arrowed into the top corner of Smith’s net.
While Page was Oakwood’s key player in attack, there was no question on whom they relied at the other end of the field.
Killick-Bird was having another marvellous game, and it took a superb tackle by the centre-back to stop Chrimes in her tracks.
Oakwood’s goal had lifted the game – and sparked a reaction from Worthing.
Worsfold was becoming increasingly influential for the visitors down the right, giving Jade Dancaster – an accomplished footballer herself – a tough time.
On 52 minutes, Worsfold sent a low cross across the goal, but again no-one got a touch.
Worthing were beginning to stretch Oakwood on an energy-sapping pitch, and the home side gave the dangerous Robinson far too much room to fire in yet another long-range shot, but once again, the captain’s radar was slightly askew.
Worsfold again set up a chance for Worthing with another excellent cross from the right, but Killick-Bird just got sufficient touch on Chrimes’ clever hooked shot to take the sting out of it, and it was easily held by Cutler, who moments later, made a far more impressive save to deny the same player.
Again the tide began to turn, and with Higham now alongside Page, Oakwood looked even more of a threat when attacking.
Midway through the half came possibly the key moment of the game. Page was again sent through with only the goalkeeper to beat – meat and drink for the teenager this season. But again, she found only the feet of Smith, who was proving as vital to Worthing’s cause as any of their outfield players.
Ashleigh Kirby fired in another shot for the visitors after fine work by fellow substitute Alice Chambers, but again Cutler was up to the challenge.
Page threatened yet again on 76 minutes, racing clear, only to be foiled by the impeccable Cave, who did just enough to put the striker off as she shot.
Within seconds, there was an almost carbon-copy move, Cave again the saviour, this time forcing Higham into a hurried effort.
Cave’s defensive magnificence was mirrored by that of Killick-Bird in the Oakwood defence, and she again denied Chrimes an opportunity with another teak-hard challenge that must have impressed her experienced adversary who specialises in such skills.
With time running out and Oakwood reliant on breakaways, Worthing smothered their opponents’ creative sparks, cutting off the supply lines for their dangerous front-runners. And they should have put the game out of sight in the 84th minute when substitute Jodi Ward somehow blasted over from six yards after another good cross from Worsfold.
As the game moved into stoppage time, Cutler denied Worthing another set-piece goal, squeezing a low corner around her near post.
From the resultant corner, Hewlett’s volley was well blocked.
It was the final meaningful action of a compelling 90-odd minutes which might never have hit the heights but featured spade-loads of the passion, commitment and technique that blesses the women’s game, even at grassroots level.
It was a game that Worthing, one of the strongest sides in the western half of the South East Counties League, were expected to win, and indeed, themselves expected to win.
In the end they held out, having sufficient skill and nous all over the pitch to prevent any shock from their up-and-coming rivals.
But while the visitors were less than happy with their overall performance, their young opponents – without key players Emma Green, Lauren Tyler and Ellie Killick-Bird – must surely have been proud of running a top team so close.
It’s Worthing – already in the advanced stages of the Ryman Cup and with a League Cup tie next week – who, rightly, take their place in the semi-finals of the Sussex County FA Trophy, where they will play their promotion rivals, Cowfold, for the right to play county league sides Lancing or Montpelier Villa in the final.
But not before Oakwood had sent another reminder to the rest of the region that they are going to be a force to reckon with.
Andy Burling (Worthing): “I thought the floodgates were going to open”
“When we went 1-0 up, I thought, this is it. Here we go. But unfortunately, it didn’t work like that. I thought the floodgates were going to open.
“[Oakwood] had a very good defence, I thought. They’re a good side. I think [Worthing’s performance] was bitty. The pitch didn’t really help us. It doesn’t suit our style of football. We’re trying to get the ball forward, out wide. We tried to make a small pitch as big as we could, but it just wouldn’t happen today.
“With the size of squad we’ve got, I’m trying to keep as many people happy as I can. The cup competitions give me the opportunity to try and play as many players as we possibly can. But the league [is the priority]. One hundred per cent, the league.”
Trevor Warren (Oakwood): “We had tears and tantrums”
“There was a period at the end of the first half which was probably the only time that I really felt like there was a class difference – when we decided to sit off them and let them play.
“We let Naomi [Robinson] start dictating it. At first, we tried to man-mark her, but she moved to too many different areas of the pitch, so we scrapped that idea.
“Jade [Page] has 25 goals this season, and she doesn’t often miss, but that was the story today. She was beating herself up at half-time about the ones she missed – she’s beating herself up now.
“I saw some character today because at half-time we had tears and tantrums. We’re not used to losing. [Worthing] are hardened. They’ve got women in their team. We only had two players in our team today who were 23 and 24. We had 16- and 17-year-old girls in today.
“I like to talk about what we have, but we did have Ellie Killick-Bird missing, we did have (14-goal) Emma Green missing, we did have Lauren Tyler missing – a lot of good players who would probably have started today.
“But I can’t take anything away from the girls because, on balance, I don’t think we deserved to lose.
“[Worthing] are a good team, and it’s no shame in losing to a good team.”
Sent Her Forward player of the match: Megan Cave (Worthing)
On a bit of an off-day for strikers, it was fitting that the two outstanding players on the pitch were defenders. Cave is a consummate defender, hard to shake off the ball and far from wasteful when in possession. In Jade Page, she faced a terrific young striker who has already scored 25 goals this season in just nine starts.
Their contest was one of the best of an intriguing cup tie, but it was Cave’s magnificence at the back that laid the foundations for her side’s narrow win.
Once again, Oakwood captain Sarah Killick-Bird led by example. Tall and slim, she is as hard as nails, times her tackles superbly and distributes with a composure that belies her tender years. She was the principal reason her team conceded only twice (although she will be disappointed that both came from corners).
Another reason for the close scoreline was goalkeeper Danni Cutler, who reads the game brilliantly, constantly breaking up threatening attacks with quick sprints from her line, always communicating with her defenders. She made some vital saves, too.
Manager Trevor Warren said Jade Page was upset about her misses – which proved to be costly in a low-scoring game. But she should instead, take heart from her barnstorming performance, in which she stretched an experienced and most accomplished back line with her pace and well-timed runs. Without her partner-in-crime, Emma Green, she took her game to new levels – apart from the goal bit (which admittedly, is pretty important).
Good performances, too, from Abi Knight, Chloe Higham and – in part – Jade Dancaster, when she wasn’t preoccupied by the aggressive, hard-working Gemma Worsfold, who was a constant threat down the Worthing right.
Worthing felt they had a bit of an off-day, but they still had enough to see out the victory. Hannah Hewlett and Naomi Robinson (inevitably), were impressive in midfield, while Maddy Emerton did an excellent job on the opposite flank to to Worsfold.
Sent Her Forward match rating: 6/10 A thoroughly enjoyable clash between two sides deservedly enjoying excellent seasons.